For the last few days, I've been participating in guided meditation sessions. At times they make me laugh.
This is a practice I haven't done for decades, and I'm finding it difficult to return to. Guided meditation can be useful, I think, to people who are unfamiliar with the practice of sitting meditation, or to people involved in a therapeutic situation, but I'm not sure it works very well for someone who doesn't fit those fairly narrow categories. It's a technique that's often used as introduction and motivation, and not solely in a Buddhist context.
Introduction to what? Motivation for what? In my case, I was looking to dealing with some habits I'd built up over the years I've been dealing with chronic health conditions. I was in so much routine physical pain for so many years that I had consciously and unconsciously developed habits to cope with the pain. Habits that continued even when the pain was gone. They restrict my movements and actions and my thinking, ultimately interfering with living a relatively full life in my dotage. As I explained to a relative not long ago, I'm pretty much housebound these days, even though the original reason for limiting my activities (pain) has almost completely dissipated.
The pain has been all but gone for the last three years or so thanks to a whole lot of medication and treatment, but the habits I developed to cope with the pain continue. I could say that about a lot of habits I've developed as coping strategies. But I specifically wanted to deal with the habits of pain-coping when there was no longer any pain to speak of.
I thought guided meditation could be useful, and to some extent it has been, even if the guides from time to time unintentionally spur my laughter. One, for example, started the session with a very long introduction, claiming over and over we would be doing a two minute guided meditation, starting "now," and then doubling back on himself and introducing and "starting" the meditation again, and so on repeatedly, so that in the end, the two minute meditation took a good ten minutes and maybe more. Each time he went around the introduction circle I laughed. I don't know whether he was conscious of doing that, and I doubt he saw or understood how funny it was to people like me.
On the other hand, by participating in the sessions (a few more to go) I've been able to focus my attention much better on my particular goals for starting these meditations, and gradually some of the habits that are no longer useful are dissipating or lifting.
Just yesterday, I was able to get up and do things consciously and mindfully without falling back on coping mechanisms that had stymied me in the past. It's going to take some time to work through all of this, though, and that's OK. I can see progress already, and because the necessity to cope is lessened if not altogether gone, I can more easily visualize a forward path.
Many years ago, I had guided meditation tapes that were useful to begin a series of zazen sessions, but I was encouraged not to rely on them, ultimately not to need them. I don't recall how long I used them -- I don't think it was very long -- but it was a little odd to be put back in that guided context again after so many years. My laughter, I think, was prompted in part by the realization that this was something I hadn't done for so long but with which I was very familiar. Is it like riding a bicycle? You never forget? Well, guess what? I can't ride a bicycle very well anymore.
As I gradually become re-accustomed to the dharma, all sorts of things are changing, coming back to me, new paths opening. Christians refer to being "re-born". That isn't quite what's happening. But it is very interesting to witness a kind of automatic youth reversion that carries me back to another time. Or at least evokes it.
Wonders never cease.